The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

April 16, 2012

MSSU professors have long history of showing non-American movies

By Kevin McClintock
Globe Staff Writer

JOPLIN, Mo. — For 50 years running now, Harrison Kash has made it a mission to bring top-notch foreign films -- lifted from nearly every corner of the world -- to Joplin audiences.

And each and every one of these films are free for the public to see.

“In this area the awareness for these films had been rising,” said Kash, a retired MSSU professor. “So some of us got interested enough that we, back in 1962, got together and went on from there,”

Bill Kumbier, associate professor of English, chuckled as Kash spoke.

“Harrison’s being modest. Really, the films are his treasure. He’s provided so many opportunities” for Joplin residents with these foreign films, Kumbier said. “He does have helpers but he does a lot of it on his own.”

Throughout the years, Kash said, the program has evolved. At one point there were three different film series taking place on the Missouri Southern State University campus simultaneously, and each loosely interconnected.

The longest, now entering its 50th year, is Kash’s Missouri Southern Film Society series. It’s usually a half-dozen foreign films from all around the world shown on Tuesday nights during each spring semester.  

The Polish film “Samson” was show on Tuesday. Other features shown this season include the Czechoslovakian movie “Adelheid” and the Polish movie “Border Street.” Each movie comes with detailed program notes researched and written by Kash.

Foreign film affairs

Fifty years is an incredible run, Kumbier said. It’s a streak that has “pretty much gone unbroken.”

The second foreign film effort was the Contemporary Foreign Film series, first launched in 1997. Foreign films, most of them from the very recent past, were shown on the MSSU campus, mostly on Friday nights.

“We did this up until two years ago,” Kumbier said. “We showed hundreds of films by the time we were done, anywhere from six to 10 movies a (month). But there wasn’t great attendance.”

The third and newest foreign film movement on the Missouri Southern campus are those representing the focused country of the university’s international themed semester. These films, under the direction of Kumbier, are usually shown during the fall months.

Egypt was the targeted country last fall, and some of the Egyptian movies shown between September and November included 2001’s “Saqafi” to the 1937 screwball comedy “Everything Is Fine.”

Sometimes, finding films from a country can be a real challenge, Kumbier said.

“Last semester, with Egypt, it was difficult,” he said. “For the first thing, the (running times) were much longer, and they were not always well made. So we had some trouble with those.”

On the other hand, when other foreign countries had robust cinematic studios, selecting films were difficult because there were so many good ones to choose from: Italy, France, Germany, Canada and Mexico were all cited by Kumbier.

Next fall’s country, Thailand, should prove easy -- and popular, thanks to that country’s high-octane movies often filled with martial arts and car chases.

Won’t see in theaters

Foreign films may not be as popular simply because some of them can be purchased via computer on Amazon or streamed live on the computer screen thanks to Netflix.

But with gasoline prices and cost of movies inching up and up -- where a box of popcorn costs $7 -- seeing a movie for free has an economic appeal to it.

“You get to see outstanding movies here that you wouldn’t be able to see in the theaters,” Kumbier said. “And that’s been one of the main reasons for doing this, because Joplin doesn’t have one screen dedicated to foreign films.”

Sometimes they are able to score a movie coup of sorts. A recently screened Cuban movie was shown for the first time in America on the MSSU campus.  

“That was quite remarkable, I thought,” Kumbier said, “We were able to see here in Joplin a film that had not been shown in an American theater -- and it was an outstanding film.

“So sometimes really amazing things happen.”

Most of the movies come from Facets Multimedia, which is located in Chicago. Facets Multi-Media’s mission is to preserve, to present and to distribute independent, world and classic film, to educate adults and children in the art and legacy of film.

Both men said there is a hunger by Joplin residents to see foreign films because, unlike most of the stale Hollywood movies served up each summer, foreign writers and directors look at life differently. Thus, it’s refreshing for Americans to view it.

But there are limits.

“If the theme is a popular one, people will put up with it being a foreign film,” Kumbier said.

For example, 2000’s Taiwanese film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” was hugely popular in America because it featured things Americans loved -- martial arts and sword play.

And while the so-called “Americanized” versions of foreign films have done financially well, most fans and critics will tell you the original foreign films, such as Sweden’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” and the Japanese-made “Ringu,” are far superior.

“If you haven’t watched a foreign film, or you’re not familiar with foreign films, you really owe it to yourself to take that opportunity, take that risk, because if you let yourself be open to it, you will see a perspective that’s new and exciting,” Kumbier said. “The way the films are shot, the kind of photography used, it’s all very different. And it’s very exciting.”

People also don’t like subtitles, though Kumbier said he would much rather watch a movie with subtitles and the film’s original sound than to be badly dubbed by voices with no acting skills or emotions.

Taking risks

The area’s conservative nature can also interfere when it comes to viewing films, particularly when hailing from more liberal-minded nations.

“We ran into this with during the Brazil semester,” Kumbier said. “You have to be a little more open-minded, because there will be, perhaps, scenes of sexuality. One of the issues is how open are you to seeing images that may be disturbing or challenging, but I don’t think that’s because it’s a foreign film. I see a lot of American films that are disgusting to watch.”

It’s the old tension between sex and violence -- American films tend to be violence-heavy, while foreign films, mainly European films, tend to be more open with nudity and sexual situations.

“We’re going to continue to take some risks,” Kumbier said.

For example, an upcoming Thai film that will be shown on campus is a movie called “Iron Ladies,” about an underdog team of transvestite, transgender gay women who play on a volleyball team vying for a championship trophy.

“This film has all these sexuality issues but it’s a mainstream film,” Kumbier said. “There’s no sex and no real nudity in it. It’s just about this underdog volleyball team that becomes champions. It’s not a great film, but it’s a popular film in Thailand, so we’re going to show it.”

What they do is unique, both Kash and Kumbier said.

“It’s absolutely unique. I don’t know any other cities that do what Kash does,” Kumbier said. “There’s absolutely nothing else like it.”